Senkiw: Clemson Defense Well Prepared for Next Two Opponents

Senkiw: Clemson Defense Well Prepared for Next Two Opponents article feature image

Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Isaiah Simmons

  • Clemson, a 33-point favorite, will see Georgia Southern's triple-option offense for the first time this season.
  • The Tigers have held Georgia Tech's rushing attack to 121.3 yards per game in the last three meetings.
  • Dabo Swinney's secret to stopping the option: more defensive talent.

Does anybody really like facing triple-option offenses? 

They’re so few and far between.

It’s infuriating for coaches — and it’s meant to be.

Schools like Army, Navy and plenty of FCS squads utilize these archaic schemes to negate opponents’ athletic advantages and keep games close.

These option attacks produce huge rushing numbers and can lead to big plays. Ball control can keep high-powered offenses from getting on the field, and option offenses force opponents to spend an entire week preparing for a style they might not see again all season.

They also force defenders to use their eyes differently. They have to make specific reads and are given unfamiliar assignments. If you don’t follow them to a T, hello bust play.

For No. 2 Clemson, however, facing this kind of scheme hasn’t been a major problem in recent years.

The Tigers take on their second option-style offense this season on Saturday when they host Georgia Southern, which is a 33-point underdog at the time of writing (with a total of 47) in its first ever game versus Clemson.

Even though the Eagles (326.5 rushing yards per game) have a new offensive coordinator in Bob DeBesse, who will implement some new variations, it’ll be a nice warm-up for the Tigers’ road test at high-powered Georgia Tech next week.

Clemson is the only ACC team outside of the Coastal Division that plays Paul Johnson and his flexbone spread attack every season, so the Tigers know what they’re going to see.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been known to devote multiple fall camp practices to defending the triple option.

The Tigers held Furman’s option offense to 117 rushing yards, 162 total yards and one garbage-time touchdown in the season opener.  

They have a recent history of dominating Georgia Tech as well. The Yellow Jackets have averaged just 121.3 rushing yards per game and an average of 13.7 points in the last three meetings.

Clemson is the only team since 2009 to hold Georgia Tech under 100 rushing yards — and the Tigers did it twice.

In fact, the worst rushing output of Johnson’s tenure came in 2015, when the Jackets produced just 71 yards. In 2016, Georgia Tech had a 124 total yards, also a low under Johnson.

The Tigers have gone 2-0-1 against the spread vs. Georgia Tech during that span. Swinney said the secret is really no secret: Clemson’s simply had the talent to stop the option.

That hasn’t always been the case, though.

In Johnson’s first seven showdowns against Clemson, the Tigers allowed 288 rushing yards per game and lost four of their first five contests against the Georgia Tech head coach.    

While not all option teams are the same and each run their own variations, Clemson has produced answers with an experienced and massive defensive front that makes dive plays and rushes to the outside difficult.

It will be interesting to see how Isaiah Simmons, who replaces the graduated Dorian O’Daniel, handles the defense’s safety-hybrid role that has been a triple-option killer.

Still, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, whose defense is allowing 94 rushing yards per game, could make points hard to come by for the Tigers’ next two opponents.

Brad Senkiw is a contributor to The Action Network and hosts The Press Box weekdays, 9 a.m.-noon ET on WCCP 105.5 The Roar.